From old to new, modern to partially collapsed, and bright colors to gray stones, visitors can expect anything but uniformity when it comes to the architecture in Lisbon. Beautiful and interesting, must-see buildings are scattered in every corner of the city, so architect-lovers won’t be bored when visiting. This list highlights some of the most remarkable and dramatic buildings among them all.
The plaza square attracts tourists and photographers as the largest square in the city and one close to the river. The bright yellow buildings that surround the square also make this landmark unique. It also goes by the name Terreiro do Paço and is called “Commerce Square” in English. The area once held the royal palace after the Portuguese Royalty left the Castelo de São Jorge, but the palace was destroyed in the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and the square was built in its wake. Today, the buildings that circle the square hold a few government buildings, including the tourism office, one of the hottest Lisbon night clubs, a number of restaurants, and a sophisticated winery, in addition to much more.
The Castelo de São Jorge is one of the most emblematic landmarks in Lisbon, along with the sunshine yellow Praça do Comércio. Built in the 11th century, the castle was once a fortification used by the Moors when they ruled the Iberian Peninsula. It was converted into a palace after the land was reconquered by the Portuguese monarchy in the 13th century, and served as the home and entertainment centre for the Portuguese royalty during the Age of Discoveries. Towards the end of the 16th century, the castle became a military fort once again, and today it is one of the city’s most loved ruins, where visitors can walk through a courtyard, enjoy views of the 25 de Abril Bridge and Tagus River, and experience a museum filled with ancient treasures like dishes, pots, currency, tiles, and more.
In Lisbon, a trend of walking through ruined buildings left by Lisbon’s most devastating earthquake will soon be noticed. The Convento do Carmo is yet another, and one of the most dramatic examples to boot. Open from Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the fall and spring and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer, the convent walls, Gothic arches, and attached museum attract many tourists looking for breathtaking architecture and emotional history. Built in the late 14th century, the convent was once one of the most lavish, affluent, and influential religious buildings in Lisbon. Located in Chiado, the street leading to the Convento do Carmo begins at the Rua Garret (a street filled with cafés, trendy boutiques, and restaurants), and the outside of the Convent can be enjoyed from the top of the Santa Justa Lift too.
Designed by architect José Luís Monteiro in the late 19th century, the train station reflects typical Portuguese Neo-Manueline architecture. The Estação do Rossio may not receive as many travelers as the Oriente Station, but it does receive many tourists who wish to gaze at the splendidly designed arches, the beautiful clock tower, and the ceiling inside. This is also the station to leave from when traveling to Sintra, one of Europe’s loveliest cities. Fun tip: the Estação do Rossio is also one of the three locations where a Starbucks can be found in Lisbon.
From the oldest cathedral in Lisbon, head to Bairro Alto and see the most beautiful cathedral in Lisbon. Constructed in intervals, the church was designed in Rome and transported to Lisbon where it was assembled. Although quite plain from the outside, the inside of the church is one of the most exquisite sights in the city.
Roman, Gothic, and Baroque architecture all influence the structure known as the Sé de Lisboa, or the Lisbon Cathedral. This is the oldest cathedral in the city, built in the 1100s over the spot that once held a Moorish Mosque. An excavation project towards the back eastern side of the cathedral unearthed some Moorish structures, which can be visited today. The most gaze-worthy parts of the Sé de Lisboa are the towers, rose windows, the altar, and the small side chapels.
Lisbon cityscapes of Alfama always show the National Pantheon, which is rather hard to miss in this part of the city. Also known by its original name, the Church of Santa Engrácia, the original church was built in the 1600s but vandalized in 1630. The restoration project, which took over 300 years to complete, was said to be cursed by the man who was erroneously convicted and murdered for the buildings vandalism. The National Pantheon is centrally located, near the site of the famous Feira da Ladra, and stands out nonetheless. The Baroque architecture pairs with some Greek-inspired decor to make it a unique building in Lisbon.
Sitting slightly uphill from the National Pantheon is the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, yet another magnificent church in this truly Catholic city. It was built in the 17th century and also serves as a monastery and the final resting place to some of Portugal’s monarch families. It was built on the orders of Portugal’s first king and designed to reflect Romanesque architecture. The exterior and interior are both stunning and include the pantheon, Baroque altarpieces, a collection of Baroque azulejo tiles (which may be the largest collection in the world), and a few statues. The side and top exterior of the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora can be easily seen from the Portas do Sol viewpoint, along with the National Pantheon, but nothing beats getting up close and personal.
North from the historical center is the Campo Pequeno Arena, a bull-fighting ring that also houses a shopping center with food courts and one of Lisbon’s most decorative cinemas. During the bull-fighting off-season, the arena itself turns into an event and concert hall, hosting Lisbon’s Chocolate Festival, in addition to other activities. It was built in the late 1800s and inspired by both Madrid’s Bullring and some Moorish designs. Anyone wanting to experience a Portuguese bullfight—which is different from a Spanish bullfight in that the bull is not killed—can buy tickets at the Campo Pequeno website. Otherwise, go for the views, the shopping, a bite to eat, and/or a movie.
Hop on one of Lisbon’s historic trams or city buses to reach Belém, a trip that takes about 30 minutes. Both forms of transportation stop in front of the Jerónimos Monastery, one of the landmarks that has placed Belém on many traveling maps. Once the home of Portuguese monks and shelter to many Portuguese explorers, the Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in the 16th century. The first architect to work on the Monastery was Diogo de Boitaca, the son-in-law of the main architect responsible for the grand Batalha Monastery. One of the first things visitors to the Monastery may notice is its length, which is impressive at least. After entering, the hallways, cathedrals, and courtyard are spellbinding. The Jerónimos Monastery is the final resting place of several important figures in Portugal’s history, including poets Luis de Camões and Fernando Pessoa, and explorer Vasco da Gama.
Built in the 16th century, Belém Tower has been ornamented with the symbols of the house of King Manuel I. These include the thick rope that encircles the castle and terminates in elegant nodes and crosses at different angles. The tower was converted into a prison during the Spanish invasion of Portugal in the late 16th-century, and upper class criminals and political dissidents were kept in the dungeons. Belém Tower provided protection for the Portuguese capital which was vulnerable to attacks from pirates and neighboring states. Today, the castle is a key symbol of Lisbon, and serves as a reminder of the former power of the Portuguese on land and at sea.
If there’s only time to visit one museum, the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology is a fantastic choice and represents Lisbon in a totally unique way. The building’s design symbolises local maritime history and doubles as a miradouro over the Tagus River. Inaugurated in the fall of 2016, it brings together entrepreneurs and forward thinkers from many backgrounds whose exhibits represent key elements in modern Portuguese culture, specifically architecture and technology.
The bright white and arched Oriente Station is the main entrance and exit for travelers heading in and out of Lisbon by train and bus. Locally, it is called the Gare do Oriente. The maritime theme of Expo ’98 can be seen mirrored in the station’s wave-like beams at the entrance. It is comprised into two levels; the ground level, where the buses will be found as well as cafés, banks, and shops, the bottom level is the entrance of the metro and small markets, and the upper level is for trains.
The Pavilhão de Portugal, or Pavilion of Portugal, is a perfect vision of defying gravity. Designed by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, who also designed the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum in Porto, it was intended to look like a curved sheet of paper sitting between two pillars. The amazing roof, which architect-lovers may revel to stand underneath, weighs an incredible 1, 400 tonnes. The Pavilhão de Portugal is connected to a museum belonging to the University of Lisbon.
Without a doubt, the Vasco da Gama Tower (Torre Vasco da Gama) is among the more noteworthy landmarks in Parque das Nações, not only for the beautiful architecture but also as the tallest skyscraper in the city. Standing at 145 meters tall, it is a striking building originally intended to be an observation deck but later converted into a luxury hotel. You will find it shining by the river behind Oriente Station. Unfortunately, only guests of the hotel are allowed into the observation deck at the top.